Reparations? Anti-Racist Training? Amherst Officials Demanding Changes In Town’s Police Department Over Late-Night Interaction With Teen-Agers

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A late-night interaction between police and teen-agers in Amherst over a noise complaint and a broken-down car has led some town officials to demand reparations for victims of police harassment.

The town’s Community Safety & Social Justice Committee has called for creating a victims compensation fund under the committee’s jurisdiction. The town’s Human Rights Commission declared the incident “a human rights violation.”

The town manager and some town council members have criticized the town’s police.

Some town officials say the incident underscores the need for the town’s forthcoming civilian police oversight board and Community Responders for Equity, Safety & Service department, which is designed to provide “a civilian, unarmed alternative” to police “in situations that don’t involve violence or serious crime” and “to ensure that any public safety response is anti-racist, equitable, just, and fair.”

The Amherst Town Council expects to hear a report about the incident on Monday, August 15, the fruit of a month-long investigation by the town’s police department in coordination with the town’s director of diversity, equity, and inclusion and the director of the civilian police-alternative department.

The reactions stem from a video posted online in mid-July that captures a portion of a nighttime conversation July 5 between two police officers and at least three teen-agers in the western Massachusetts town.

The video shows two police officers, a man and a woman, standing on a residential street with a police cruiser in the background. It appears to have been taken by someone sitting on the ground. No other people are visible in the video, but the audio appears to capture the voices of the two police officers, two teen-age boys, and a teen-age girl.

The audio includes crosstalk and muffled voices, complicating efforts to create a transcript.  But a close-to-verbatim version of the back-and-forth appears below. The video begins mid-conversation:


Teen-Age Boy # 1:  I don’t get —

Male Police Officer:  You had — Dude, I don’t even hear that you have your rights. 

Female Police Officer [crosstalk]:  You’ve already started this talking poorly.

Male Police Officer:  Because right now, as a juvenile, you don’t have rights at this point.  You’ve, you’ve lost it.  All right?

Teen-Age Boy # 1:  Why do I not have rights?

Male Police Officer:  You’ve lost it.  You’re not an adult.

Male Police Officer:  [to other teen-agers]:  You got an ID?

Teen-Age Boy # 1:  Why do I –?

Male Police Officer:  Do you have an ID?

Teen-Age Girl:  No.  But I have my —

Teen-Age Boy # 1:  I asked you why I do not have rights [muffled]

Female Police Officer:  [muffled]

Male Police Officer:  Do you have a school ID?  School ID works.  You got school ID?

Teen-Age Girl # 1:  I don’t have it on me, but I do have my —

[crosstalk between Female Police Officer # 1 and Teen-Age Boy # 1] 

Teen-Age Boy # 1:  O.K.. But that’s, but that’s, that’s a problem.

Female Police Officer:  You don’t get to make a call right now, because we said so, because you’re detained, because you can’t be out right now.

Teen-Age Boy # 1:  Why am I being detained?

Teen-Age Boy # 2:  Can you repeat that again?  You said we don’t have rights?

Female Police Officer:  No.  Poor phrasing.

Teen-Age Boy # 1:  Why am I being detained?  Why am I — No, no, no.  But why am I being detained?

Male Police Officer:  Dude, we’ve already told you.

Female Police Officer:  Talking to you about the noise, and you wouldn’t ID yourself.  So now —

Male Police Officer:  Dude, you’re sixteen years old!

Teen-Age Boy # 1:  I have, I have a flat tire. 

Female Police Officer:  Guys.  Hey —

Teen-Age Boy # 1:  I’m waiting for Triple-A to come and, and help me with my flat tire.  They’re here —

Female Police Officer:  Listen to me.  Do you want to know?  Do you want the answer? —

Teen-Age Boy # 1:  Yes.

Female Police Officer:  —  Or are you gonna keep talking over me?

Teen-Age Boy # 1:  I’m, I’m, I’m — He asked me what I’m doing here.  I am telling him I have a flat tire.

Female Police Officer:  O.K.:  In Amherst, there are bylaws, for noise.

Teen-Age Boy # 1:  O.K.

Female Police Officer:  O.K.?


Critics of police have focused on the male officer’s statement “you don’t have rights” to the male teen-ager who apparently was the driver of the car. The context of the statement is not clear from the video, which picks up the conversation just before the officer makes that statement.

The video also does not make it clear what time of night the incident took place. In Massachusetts, teen-agers under 18 who have a driver’s license are not allowed to drive a vehicle between the hours of 12:30 a.m. and 5 a.m., unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.

No town officials so far have publicly defended the police officers. The town’s police department has so far not issued a public statement about the incident. NewBostonPost could not reach a police spokesman for comment.

The town manager, Paul Bockelman, criticized the police officers during a town council meeting July 18. During his comments, he made reference to several acronyms, including CRESS (the town’s civilian police-alternative department), DEI (the town’s diversity, equity, and inclusion department), and APD (the town’s police department).

Bockelman said:


So, I know the question came up about the fifty-four – the video, that’s been shared out. And – So that’s something that we take very seriously. Anybody who would watch that video I think would say, “Well, that does not seem like how we would want to treat our young people.” The DEI director has requested a review by the police department. That review will be shared with the DEI director and the CRESS director.  The CRESS director has already had, you know, conversations with the APD.

People say, “Well, why didn’t CRESS respond?”  And I think everyone would agree that this is precisely what — the type of situation that we would want CRESS to respond to.  It’s a noise complaint.  It’s young people.  It’s something that police don’t need to show up at.  I mean, from the police point of view, and my point of view, and from the CRESS point of view, that’s exactly – they actually are using that as a part of their training scenarios.

Why didn’t CRESS respond?  CRESS isn’t ready to take to the streets yet.  They’re in the middle of their training program.  Their training will go through the end of August.  It’s a pretty intensive training that they’re doing at Monson Building.  They’re doing lots of different things.  It’s all team building.  It’s learning about the town.  It’s de-escalation training. Learning anti-racist behavior.  Going through a lot of role-playing.  So they’re not prepared to respond at this moment.  But they will be, by the end of August.

But I think what one thing we’ve really taken to, and this is where I was really grateful, that — This is why we have CRESS.  It’s why we have the DEI department.  And why these two – and why, when we get out Police Resident Oversight Board up and running, it will be important for that institution to be up and running, as well.

From what I’ve seen on the fifty-four-second video, it looked like an unfortunate incident. Again, we’re going to ask for the information that the police department has, for the DEI director to review it.


Two town council members also criticized the officers during the July 18 meeting.

“We want a strong police department. We really do. But we also have to have, you know, a little more common sense,” town council member Dorothy Pam said. “And I’m sure that this will be dealt with in a very efficient, thorough manner.”

Town council member Elisha Walker called the interaction “a very unfortunate incident” that affirms the need for the civilian police-alternative agency, for the Amherst Police Department to create “an anti-racist culture,” and for the police oversight board that town officials are in the process of establishing.

“Because I think that the families that were involved, the people in the community who are watching these things unfold, what they want is accountability, and also to realize that as leaders of the community we are going to stand up for them and protect their rights, and the things that do protect them,” Walker said.

On July 28, the Amherst Community Safety & Social Justice Community, an advisory committee appointed by the town council, approved a letter to the town council demanding changes in the town’s policing practices and praising the teen-agers involved in the incident.

“To the youth impacted by this event, thank you for your bravery in documenting and sharing the incident despite the very real threat of retaliation. You should not have to shoulder that burden. You deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, which was not the case in your recent interaction with the Amherst Police Department,” the committee’s letter states. “We recognize that incidents like this are traumatizing, and can impact your worldview and your view of our community. We hope you will find healing through your family, friends and this community. We hope together we can build a future deserving of all your gifts, time and energy through the Youth Empowerment Center.”

The western Massachusetts town of Amherst has about 39,000 people.  It is home to the flagship campus of the state-run University of Massachusetts and the small, private, liberal-arts school Amherst College. The town leans left:  Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in Amherst in 2020 by 90 to 7 percent.

On a distinct policy matter, town officials in Amherst are moving forward with plans to use local marijuana tax revenue for a reparations fund for black residents to try to make up for slavery and discrimination. Town officials are drafting language for a bill in the Massachusetts Legislature that would allow the town to give public money to individual African-Americans.

The Amherst Town Council is scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday, August 15 through Zoom online.


Screenshot of video posted online showing a portion of an interaction between police officers and teen-agers in Amherst, Massachusetts on July 5, 2022.

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